Schools are doing their best to cope with larger class sizes and other budget-related challenges, a trio of principals told Spokane Public Schools board members Wednesday night.
“We are hearing a lot about the resiliency of our teachers at all schools,” said Jeremy Ochse, principal at Sacajawea Middle School, where attendance is higher and staff cuts have been deeper than at most schools.
The South Hill school welcomed 852 students this year, an increase of 40 over last year even as Ochse lost 1.6 full-time-equivalents of staff.
“Classes are big,” acknowledged Ochse, who noted that several core classes – science, math and social studies – contain 30 or 31 students. However, that’s been mitigated by evening out the number of students who have individualized education programs or IEPs.
“And the support from the district has been awesome,” said Ochse, who read positive comments from building staff and administrators on the start to the school year.
Board members also struck a positive tone, even as the district began the year with more than 1,000 classes holding at least 28 students each. Of those, more than 200 classes will have at least 31 students.
The numbers were “better than I had feared,” board member Mike Wiser said.
Board member Deana Brower added, “It’s heartwarming to hear principals speak so positively.”
The board also received positive feedback on reduction of kindergarten through third-grade class sizes, restoration of elementary school supply budgets and the popularity of the SHOP, an after-school activities program that will be held on 20 early-release Fridays this year.
“We’ve been working with the central office, trying to communicate to lessen the confusion,” said Moran Prairie Principal Clint Price, who also praised district staff for helping run the SHOP.
“That staff involvement has helped a lot,” Price said.
Most of the discussion centered on class sizes, which have risen moderately but unevenly across the district – one of the effects of a $31 million deficit and the loss of almost 100 teaching positions going into the new year.
“The staff has been very resilient,” said Rogers High School Principal Lori Wyborney. “But we spent a lot of time preparing for it.”
At Rogers this year, 73 core classes contain 30 or more students.
“They’re not loving huge classes,” Wyborney said. “They’re hoping that it doesn’t last past this year, but they’re working through it. … It hasn’t been horrible, and it’s driven some innovation.”
Wyborney added that she hasn’t heard any complaints from students. “It’s one of the best starts to the school year that we’ve had,” she said.
The district has already moved to alleviate several trouble spots at the elementary level. Price said his school has taken in several sixth-graders from nearby Mullan Road, which had 33 to 35 students per class.
Price added that personal disruption for those transfer students has been mitigated by a “buddy system” to help the newcomers feel more at home.
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